ISLAMABAD, Aug 29: Pakistan was optimistic on Friday about hopes of restoring air links with India, despite the failure of this week’s talks to produce an agreement and an apparent snag over the issue of future overflight bans.
“There is no impasse,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP.
“The talks to restore air links between India and Pakistan are not the end of the story, but the beginning of a process.”
Two days of talks between aviation officials and experts from Pakistan and India in Rawalpindi broke down when the Indian side reportedly refused Pakistan’s demand for guarantees against unilateral overflight bans.
The six-member Indian delegation had travelled to Pakistan to discuss lifting of a 20-month suspension on air links imposed by New Delhi in the wake of an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 that it blamed on Pakistan-based groups. Pakistan denies the Indian charge.
A senior government official told AFP that the Indian delegates had “a limited mandate” from New Delhi and were not in a position to give the assurances Islamabad wanted.
Sheikh Rashid found hope in the decision to hold more talks on the topic, at a date to be decided.
“There is no negative impact on the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan as the next round of talks is going to be held in India,” the minister said.
Train service has yet to be revived and no date has been set for official-level talks although Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has agreed to travel to Islamabad in January for the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit.
The failure to reach agreement on withdrawing the overflight ban put a damper on hopes for more headway in the thaw.
But PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussain said the process was bound to be slow, while also defending the Pakistani demand for guarantees on overflight rights. “It is not an event, but a process which is at times painful, tedious and slow,” Mr Hussain told AFP. “The good thing is that finally the talks have begun. The best thing is that we are talking to each other and not at each other.”